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Green Jobs Versus Real Jobs


This article originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on 4/21/2013.


On this 43rd celebration of Earth Day, Americans can celebrate the genuine environmental improvements achieved over the past four decades.

A few of the many examples: automobiles now emit 90 percent less pollution than on the first Earth Day while vehicles traveled have increased by 165 percent. Aggregate emissions of the six major pollutants regulated under the federal Clean Air Act have declined by 50 percent while the U.S. gross domestic product increased by 200 percent.

The federal environmental laws passed shortly before and after the first Earth Day played an important role in this record, but technologies and efficiencies created by the private market were the drivers. Americans are fortunate that prosperity has allowed absorption of the high cost of environmental controls. The level of environmental quality achieved in the U.S. remains a dream for declining and developing economies where jobs to secure basic sustenance remain the overarching priority.

Efforts to protect human health and the environment, of course, will never be over as new and localized problems arise. But a new era of environmental values have emerged. The hazy green and clean policies of the current administration come close to Al Gore’s often quoted hope “to make the environment the organizing principle of the economy.” Such a nostrum is not only unrealistic but dangerously elevates the natural world above real human beings. It also would undermine prosperity — the wellsprings of the elaborate environmental protections now enjoyed. The massive costs of today’s elitist green policies already hurt families forced to spend more on energy than food and whose breadwinner is unemployed.

President Barack Obama promised that the federal government would create new green jobs to replace the millions of jobs lost in the “great recession” during 2009 and 2010. His administration trumpeted these new environmental jobs as the key justification for the almost $1 trillion taxpayer-funded federal stimulus authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Massive government subsidy of business viewed as clean or green (think: low carbon), as the policy story was told, would jump-start the ailing economy and catalyze scores of new green jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics was tasked to count these green jobs. The bureau’s last report does tally an impressive 3.4 million green jobs. The bureau’s vague definition of green jobs is so broad, however, that the number of jobs new and green is a mirage. Trash collection, portable toilet cleaning, Salvation Army, school bus drivers, lobbying and steel manufacturing are counted as green jobs. In the bureau’s accounting, solar generation accounted for a measly 500 jobs and wind accounted for 2,700 jobs. The leading sector in manufacturing was certainly not wind turbines or solar panels but steel, hardly a new, low-carbon enterprise. Installation of septic tanks accounted for 33 times more jobs than the renewable energy.

A not-so-tragic casualty of the federal spending cuts, known as the sequester, is elimination of this program to count green jobs. Another stimulus-funded program to train people for the new green jobs also has been a failure. Only 10 percent of the trainees found jobs and less than 2 percent of those held the job for more than six months.

The plan that massive subsidy of clean and green energy would create scores of new jobs and stimulate the economy has not been fulfilled. Quite unexpectedly, the sector where job creation has soared is oil and gas production, where technology developed by the private sector has allowed prodigious growth. How ironic! In the past few years, the sector so vilified by environmentalists has created more than a million new jobs. Half of that million has arisen in Texas. And the average salary in the upstream oil and gas production is $100,000 to $150,000. That is two to three times higher than the average job in the private sector.

To suggest that these new jobs in the fossil fuel industry should be celebrated on Earth Day might seem odd. Yet, this oil and gas boom occurs after American businesses have spent the past 40 years developing hardware and know-how to minimize and mitigate environmental risks. Only prosperity, brought about in part by, yes, fossil fuels, has provided resources and innovation necessary to tackle our environmental problems.

So on this Earth Day, instead of celebrating “green jobs,” let’s celebrate the magnitude of the environmental improvements now enjoyed, celebrate the abundance of natural resources with which Texas is blessed, and celebrate the human intelligence and creativity that makes environmental protection possible.